Wearables Must Fix Barriers to Achieve Potential-The HSB Blog 5/3/22



Our Take:


The barriers to adopting wearable technology still persist notwithstanding its consistent advancement and growing demand for health monitoring. Barriers such as cost effectiveness, accessibility, maintenance, and privacy limit the usability of wearables and addressing these barriers would enhance its utility to the general public.

Below is a breakdown of each of these barriers and ways technology developers and health professionals are dealing with them.


Key Takeaways:

  • The wearable technology market is expected to grow from USD 116.2 billion in 2021 to USD 265.4 billion by 2026, at a CAGR of 18.0%.

  • Developers like MFine are working towards making basic health assessments universal, easy, and free to use for millions of people by enabling monitoring through smartphones.

  • Wearable sensor technology can vary broadly in price from individual Bluetooth sensors that cost as little as $35 to RFID sensors which cost over $1,000 apiece.

  • Wearable devices have made health assessments easier for patients by monitoring vitals such as blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen levels, etc. through smartphones, smartwatches, laptops, and tablets.

The Problem:


Despite wearable technology’s increasing popularity, barriers such as cost, usability, maintenance, and privacy still remain. The cost of individual sensors which ranges from $35 for Bluetooth devices to over $1,000 for radio frequency identification (RFID) excludes people who might need it but cannot afford it. Besides cost, the perceived utility of popular wearable gadgets is poor, and consumer loyalty is low. Poor consumer loyalty is due to reluctance to adapt to new technologies, skepticism regarding the result’s reliability, electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure, and privacy concerns. This is the case notwithstanding the real time data monitoring value that wearable devices provide. Interestingly, medical and health care employees rated the devices higher and had a higher level of acceptance for wearable device usability than internet employees. This might be because wearable gadgets’ help in alleviating the clinicians’ burden through continuous monitoring of health data that facilitates diagnosis and disease identification.


Maintenance of wearable devices is another challenge because over time with usage of the sensor irreparable issues or damages can develop. When glitches occur due to sensory failure or low battery life the device is no longer reliable for recording data such as tracking movement for exercising. While some wearable technologies offer device service and protection, it is usually for a limited time frame after which the user becomes liable to pay out of pocket for repairs or a replacement. Privacy concerns and the slow pace of passing policies and regulations for data protection adds to consumers’ uneasiness. For example, as we noted in “Health App Regulation Needs A New Direction-The HSB Blog 4/12/22, “while the markets and technology are moving at a rapid pace, policies and efforts around regulation move extremely slowly and have generally lagged behind advancement.” In addition, while we noted precautions developers of wearables can take in our blog, 8 Steps To Protect Against Ransomware When Developing Or Deploying New Apps-The HSB Blog 7/26/21, digital healthcare applications remain a target of cyberattacks and data privacy is generally not well protected.


The Backdrop:


The wearable technology industry has gained traction over the years and is projected to grow exponentially. According to a blog post from Appinventiv entitled, “How Much Does Wearable App Development Cost”, “the wearable technology market is expected to grow from USD 116.2 billion in 2021 to USD 265.4 billion by 2026, at a CAGR of 18.0%.” In part, this is due to innovative interfaces and improved user experience that have made these devices more accessible. As a result, wearable technologies and sensors have made health assessments easier for patients by monitoring vitals such as blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen levels, etc. through smartphones, laptops, and tablets.


While there are a number of wearables in development, a number of devices are already on the market with many practical applications. For example, the Amrita Spandanam wearable device developed by Amrita's Centre for Wireless Networks and Applications employs a finger clip to assess blood glucose, blood pressure, heart rate, blood oxygen, respiratory rate, and 6-lead ECG. It is constructed with unique AI algorithms that process differential light signals to offer important bodily metrics. MFine, an Indian digital health business, has updated its mobile health app with blood pressure and glucose monitoring capabilities. After two years of research and clinical studies involving around 3,000 patients, the health tech firm released its latest vital measuring capabilities in early March of 2022. Last year, Samsung gradually added blood pressure measuring and ECG monitoring features to its consumer smartwatches throughout the world. Recently, Peloton released an armband that doubles as a Bluetooth heart rate monitor. The gadget detects heart rate using optical sensors and includes five LED lights that represent the heart rate zone, Bluetooth connectivity status, and battery charge.


Implications:



As the usage of wearable devices increases over time, there is one question that needs to be asked; do the benefits of these wearable devices outweigh their disadvantages? First and foremost, the cost effectiveness of the devices must be evaluated. For example, the continuous monitoring of basic physiologic readings such as blood pressure can potentially help alleviate a number of long-term health risks with proper monitoring since most people actually do not know or regularly monitor their blood pressure until their annual visit to their primary care physician. As noted in “Blood pressure, glucose monitoring tools now live on MFine app” The readings for blood pressure on wearables are now close to 90% in accuracy, while still not perfect, they do provide helpful data. This type of data can give patients crucial insights into their health data. Over time as technology improves and becomes less expensive, the ability to translate this method of body function measurement to smartphones will be far more cost effective than current wearable devices allowing it to be more effectively accessed by many more people.


Apart from affordability, the ability to understand and translate the information provided by the wearable devices into relevant clinical data is another barrier to its widespread usage.. Currently, clinicians often find it difficult to separate meaningful and insightful metrics from the volumes of raw data that wearables provide as well as easily incorporate it into data in the EHR and care plans. Over time this data has to become easier to integrate and more insightful.


Furthermore, accessibility, usability, maintenance and privacy are equally also [JE1] [JE2] barriers.. In terms of data privacy, as noted in Healthcare Drives articles, “More than 1/3 of health organizations were hit by ransomware last year” The report quoted found that “ransomware was relatively prevalent in the healthcare sector, with 34% of organizations hit by such an attack in the past year. Of those not hit, 41% said they expected an attack in the future, while just 24% said they felt safe from future attacks.” Data privacy and security have been and will be continue to be an issue with healthtech and wearable. In terms of accessibility and usability, solutions like MFine app are addressing accessibility and usability for blood pressure and glucose monitoring tools by enabling vitals monitoring through smartphones. While the technology is still early and it is difficult to determine whether or not the barriers to the adoption of wearable devices outweigh the advantages, it is safe to say that by addressing the barriers noted above the benefits of wearable devices will increase and will more than likely have meaningful impact on the health of populations and decrease of cost of care.


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